The Nineteenth Century

1857 --October 10, 1857---the Norwegian Synod decided to establish an institution of higher learning with a Norwegian background in America, but first used Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (Missouri Synod) having a professorship there until there was enough money to start a college. The church council that made this decision met at Washington Prairie church. 1

1859 --Laur Larsen started his position as professor at Concordia Seminary on October 14, 1859. This is now recognized as Founder’s Day. 2

1861 --September Luther opens in Halfway Creek, Wis. 3 Beginning of the American Civil War.

1862 --September 8, the first classes were held in Decorah 4

1864 --June 30, cornerstone laid for the original Main building 5

1865 --Oct. 14, dedicated the first Main building, progression of the college 6; Luther was legally incorporated in Iowa 7; first student newspaper, Moderlandet, was published from 1865-66 8

1866 --First graduating class with eight members 9

1867 --Campus House was built by the congregations of Nils O. Brandt and later purchased by college 10

1869 --First organized musical ensemble: the Idun Quartette 11

1872 --College publishes first catalog, called Katalog for det norske Luther-college i Decorah, Iowa, 1861-1872. 12

1874 --Dec. 2, after new wing of Main built, the college bell is rang for first time. 13

1876 --First Lutheran was built--to be shared by the college and the FL congregation. Luther owned a half share of the property until 1930. 14

1878 --The college band was first organized and started to perform 15

1880 --Luther gets an alumni organization—the Luther College Alumni Forening which, David T. Nelson says, shows the Americanization of Luther as opposed to the Norwegian past 16

1883 --In 1877 the first orchestra started to form, and in 1883 it performed its first concert, and has been in existence ever since 17

1884 --College Chips 1884 founded 18

1886 --First concert band tour 19; beginning of intercollegiate athletics with baseball game of Luther vs. St. Olaf 20

1889 --May 19, the first Main Building was destroyed by fire 21

1890 --New Old Main Building was dedicated October 14. 22 The rebuilding of it in Decorah was strongly advocated for by Koren. It received a new bell from the same man who donated the previous bell, Bjorn Haatvedt (Edwards).

1892 -- Luther College Athletic Association formed, and school colors established in the nineties 23

1896 --Luther College Boarding Club founded, and it lasts until 1931.  24

1897 --“To Luther,” the college song, written 25

A New Century

1902 --C. K. Preus elected as the second president of Luther (LC61-61, p. 161, info. on his life, p.170 ff)

1903 --Basketball begins with the first intercollegiate basketball game against Upper Iowa (LC61-61, p. 205-206)

1905 --Sperati came to Luther; developed Concert Band and led many tours (LC61-61, p. 190)

1907 --October 13, 1907 Laur Larsen Hall dedicated. A dormitory, with space for laboratories and music

1911 --Luther statue presented by pastors’ wives and women of Norwegian Synod in 1911 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the college (Luther College 1861-1961, p. 174); October 14, Luther’s endowment fund began, with an intital sum of $250,000 (LC61-61, p. 174)

1914 --Concert Band travels to Europe

1915 --Tuition was first charged (LC61-61, p. 178)

1916 --Loyalty Hall (LC61-61, p.175-176)

1920 --The Pioneer was first published (LC61-61, p. 198)

1921 --Luther Fight Song written in 1921 by Arthur J. Tolo ‘18 and N.G. Maakestad ‘21 (homecoming 2006); Koren Hall dedicated Oct. 14, 1921 (LC61-61, p. 176-177); 1921 Oscar L. Olson became president of Luther--first interim and then permanent. (LC61-61, p. 211-215); 1921 Luther College Bulletin was established (LC61-61, p. 220)

1925 --Norwegian-American Historical Museum was established in 1925 and grew with gifts from Norway and moved downtown in 1932 (LC61-61, p. 225-227); magna, summa, and cum laude introduced at Luther; orientation course 1927 (LC61-61, p. 238)

1926 --KWLC got license (LC61-61, p. 220); October, Preus Gymnasium built(LC61-61, p. 218)

1928 --Luther College News Service organized (LC61-61, p. 220)

1929 --January 12,Luther College bought Jewell farm (360 acres) for $60,000 (Luther College 1861-1961, p. 218-19)

1930 --The school was officially called Norwegian Lutheran College until it was changed in the Articles of Incorporation to Luther College (LC61-61, p. 60)

1931 --Modernization of curriculum, drop[ed classical requirements (Luther College 1861-1961, p. 244); athletics was reorganized to be under the control of a board, not students (LC61-61, p. 238); 1931-1932---”watershed between the old and the new college.” Olson was forced out as president, but first he got a new curriculum to be passed---this curriculum broke the ties with the classical curriculum of the past. In 1932 Olson also pressed, unsuccessfully, for coeducation. (Stability and Change, p. 9)

1932 --Olson resigned as president in 1932, but he kept teaching English until 1952; in 1951 he was given an honorary Doctor of Letters; 51 years is longest teaching service in college history (LC61-61, p. 249--here there is also an analysis of his contributions to Luther); Ove J.H. Preus president of Luther College 1861-1961; years of financial difficulty; August 1,The Decorah Junior College for Girls opened (Luther college, 1861-1961, p. 257)

1933 --1933 Decorah Junior College operates jointly with Luther. There are two student bodies, but they share everything at Luther. (LC61-61, p. 259); first summer session held 1933 (and it was coed) (LC61-61, p. 259); March 13, Luther College Women’s Club established (LC 61-61, p. 264)

1934 --Financial troubles finally begin to improve (LC61-61, p. 263)

1935 --Decorah College for Women incorporated (homecoming 2005)

1936 --June, new Articles were passed. Allowed for Co-Education and more autonomy for the college. (Luther College 1861-1961, p. 268-269); Qualley the first vice president (1936) and first dean (1946) (LC 61-61, p. 288)

1938 --The student canteen was enlarged and became the Luther College Bookshop (LC61-61, p. 278)

1940 --First woman to edit Chips was Louise Helen (Nelson) Knapp--January 1940; first woman to edit The Pioneer was Louise Helen (Nelson) Knapp in 1940 (LC 61-61, p. 297)

1942 --May 31, old Main burned down (LC 61-61, p. 280)

A New Start

1944 --Luther further expanded its curriculum and created a new mission statement that made it a college aimed at broadly educating everyone in the liberal and Christian tradition (1948) (LC 61-61, p. 290-291).

1945 --First international students came from Norway in 1945 (LC 61-61, p. 298)

1946 --Qualley is the first dean of Luther College (homecoming 2006)

1948 -Preus retired on June 30. (LC 61-61, p. 301-302); July 1, 1948 J. Wilhelm Ylvisaker ‘21 was elected the fifth president of Luther (LC 61-61, p. 303)

1950 --First wrestling season 1950-1951

1951 --Dorian festivals begin (homecoming 2006); Dorian festivals for high school students---Band, April 25, 1950; Choral, 1951; Piano and Organ, 1956 (LC 61-61, p. 336)

1952 --New Main (LC 61-61, p. 305) finished in September; Varsity Band established (LC61-61, p. 335)

1954 --First VP in charge of development—Arthur Ole Davidson (S and C, p. 118)

1955 --Men’s cross country begins (LC61-61, p. 339); Olson Hall finished in September (LC 61-61, p. 306)

1956 --August 31, Luther College Press is established (so that it can print the lectures from the five-year series, Martin Luther Lectures, which led into a celebration of Luther’s centennial by examining Luther’s relevance in today’s world) (LC61-61, p. 323-324)

1957 --Faculty Handbook. It formalized and clarified things pertaining to the role of the faculty. (LC61-61, p. 320)

1958 --Brandt Hall was completed in 1949-1950 second semester--east wing finished in 1958 (LC 61-61, p. 305); the governing board was named the Board of Regents, and they were awarded more power over the college (LC 61-61, p. 319)

1959 --February founding of student congregation (LC 61-61, p. 332)

1961 --Valders and the Union both built in 1961 (LC 61-61, p. 305, Stability and Change 131-133); celebrations for the centennial of the college (Stability and Change, p. 21-24); November 2, C.K. Preus Gymnasium burned (S and C, p. 125-126). There were many effects. One was that daily chapel was not longer required b/c there was not enough room for everyone in Valders; publication of David T. Nelson’s book Luther College, 1861-1961.

1962 --Feb. 8, 1962 social dancing was no longer prohibited at Luther. First college dance: Homecoming Ball 1962 (Stability and Change, p. 44, 45); David T. Nelson the acting president beginning August 1. (S and C, p. 51); Farwell elected president in August then inaugurated May 1. (S and C, p. 55-56); The Centennial Union opened. It was the first air-conditioned room on campus. (S and C, p. 133); a new concept for the campus design. Designed mainly with the Wickstead firm of Chicago, the plan was finished by 1962. The main deviation was the controversial decision to put the field house on lower campus. (Stability and Change, p. 128-129)

1963 --July, Qualley resigns as dean (S and C, p. 57)

1964 --John Vernon Swenson Linnell became Luther’s second dean (SandC, p. 60); curriculum change introduced January Term (Stability and Change, p. 92-93, analysis p. 93-94). Also introduced the Freshman Core Program (ended in 1972)— “establish[ed] a definite precedent for a common, humanities-oriented freshman program. (S and C p. 95); Luther College Field House opened (Stability and Change, p. 133-135);Ylvisaker Hall opened—a dorm for freshman men (Stability and Change, p. 135); Vesterheim was established as a non-profit corporation (S and C, p. 151)

1966 --Upward Bound starts 1966 (homecoming 2006); Articles of Incorporation changed so that teachers not of the Lutheran faith could be more easily hired (SandC, p. 65); Dieseth opened, one of the Regents Towers(S and C, p. 136)

1968 --Black Student Union was founded. The previous years had seen a large increase in black American students at Luther due to heavy recruiting. (Stability and Change, p. 102); Miller dorm opened, the second of the Regents Towers (S and C, p. 136)

1969 --Preus Library dedicated (Stability and Change, p. 137-139); May 19, contract was signed that split Vesterheim from Luther (Stability and Change, p. 160)

1971 --Married student housing constructed (Stability and Change, p. 136)

1972 --Ruth Mostrom became first female vice president (S and C, p. 57); first year of Nottingham program (S and C, p. 109)

1973 --A time-sharing computer system introduced to Luther (Stability and Change, p. 104)

1975 --King Olaf lays cornerstone of Center for Faith and Life in 1975 (homecoming 2005)

1977 --A new curriculum was introduced, most notable adding Paideia (S and C, p. 99); Center for Faith and Life was dedicated on October 16. (Stability and Change, p. 146. See p. 139-147 for discussion on building it.)

1982 --Luther got a Phi Beta Kappa chapter (Stability and Change, p. 101); Jenson Noble Hall of Music was dedicated (ground was broken on October 9, 1981). The last building in a large building program that included the library, towers dorms, the union, the CFL, and the field house. (S and C, p. 148)

1985 --Men’s cross country wins Luther’s first NCAA Division III championship (homecoming 2005); Mary Stella Larson is first Luther woman to win a Rhodes scholarship (SandC, p. 108)

1987 --Foreign language houses established; Luther's endowment passes $12-million mark; The all-weather track at Carlson Stadium is completed; Koren Hall renovation begins

1988 --O.W. “Pip” Qualley, professor emeritus of classics, dies at age 91; Koren Hall rededicated following renovation; All-weather track dedicated

1989 --Construction of the Regents Center and Farwell Hall begins

1992 --New greenhouse and undergraduate research facility at Valders Hall of Science dedicated; Five-year, $30-million "Environment for Excellence" campaign begins (campaign nets more than $42-million)

1993 --F.W. Olin Foundation awards $5.9-million dollar grant for construction of a new building for economics and business, mathematics and computer science, the Olin Building; Luther College Concert Band tours Japan; Inaugural Jenson Medal awarded to Anjela Shutts ‘93

1994 --Construction of F.W. Olin Building begins

1995 --President H. George Anderson elected bishop of ELCA; David Roslien ‘59 named interim president; King Harold V and Queen Sonya of Norway visit the college; Environment for Excellence Campaign reaches $42-million mark; F.W. Olin Building dedicated

1996 –-Jeffrey D. Baker named eighth president of Luther; Enrollment tops 2,400; Overholt Human Anatomy Laboratory dedicated

1997 --Turena Johnson ’97 wins NCAA Div. III National Cross Country title; is a five-time NCAA champion; Kent Finanger ’54 retires from coaching after 46 years as a player and coach at Luther; Dante’s is closed; Marty’s is opened

1998 -–Luther kicks off Leadership for a New Century campaign; key components are the Center for the Arts and the Noble Addition to Jenson Noble Hall of Music; More than 1,400 Luther alumni return to campus to celebrate Weston Noble’s 50 years of service to the college; Turena Johnson ’97 named Honda Woman Athlete of the year; Eric Cutler ’99 wins Metropolitan Opera National Audition

1999 --Ground is broken for Baker Village; President Jeffrey D. Baker died; Richard L. Torgerson named Luther’s ninth president; Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon visits Luther; Norse women capture IIAC all-sports trophy

The Next Millennium

2000 --President Richard L. Torgerson inaugurated; Baker Village dedicated; Roslien Woodlands for Outdoor Education, Recreation and Biological Research named for David Roslien ’59; -Betty Hoff ’60 earns 500th career victory as Luther’s softball coach; Russel R. Rulon ’58 Endowed Chair in Biology established with $1.13-million in gifts from alumni

2001 --Legends Fitness for Life Center dedicated; Ground is broken for the Center for the Arts; Phillip Assmus ’01 becomes Luther’s seventh Rhodes Scholar; Betty Hoff ‘60 named the first Nena Amundson ‘56 Distinguished Professor; Brandt Hall renovated

2002 –-60,000 square feet Center for the Arts opens; Jenson Noble Hall of Music, the Weston H. Noble Recital Hall, and the Bahe-Mostrom Lobby are dedicated. Luther adopts new logo;Ylvisaker Hall is renovated. Leadership for a New Century Campaign closes with more than $63.5 million in gifts, pledges and deferred gifts; Johanna Olson ’01, named Luther’s 25th NCAA postgraduate scholar


  1. Nelson, 1961, p. 33
  2. Nelson, 1961, pp. 38-39
  3. Nelson, 1961, p. 49
  4. Nelson, 1961, p. 54
  5. Nelson, 1961, p. 58
  6. Nelson, 1961, p. 65ff
  7. Nelson, 1961, p. 102
  8. Nelson, 1961
  9. Nelson, 1961, p. 98
  10. Nelson, 1961, p. 93
  11. Nelson, 1961, p. 118
  12. Nelson, 1961, p. 113
  13. Nelson, 1961, p. 94
  14. Nelson, 1961, pp. 94-95, 219; Homecoming 2006
  15. Nelson, 1961, p. 118
  16. Nelson, 1961, pp. 141-142
  17. Nelson, 1961, pp. 118, 156
  18. Nelson, 1961, p. 154
  19. Nelson, 1961, p. 156; Homecoming 2006
  20. Nelson, 1961, p. 157
  21. Nelson, 1961, p. 133
  22. Nelson, 1961, p. 136
  23. Nelson, 1961, p. 160
  24. Nelson, 1961, p. 140
  25. Nelson, 1961, p. 160


Nelson, David T., Luther College 1861-1961, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1961.

Jordahl, Leigh D. and Harris E. Kaasa, Stability and Change: Luther College in Its Second Century, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1986.

Luther College Archives